Weekly Feature



2015-12-30 / Local News

Volunteer sewing group teaches refugees valuable skills

by KAITLIN LINDAHL
East Aurora Editor

When Barb Lipiew retired two years ago, she started looking for a hobby to fill her time. However, after volunteering with various organizations, she settled with a group that combines her longtime hobby with volunteerism: Canisius Sew REDI.

“I was in a 4-H group growing up, and we learned to sew. Sewing is just something I’ve always done. It can be fun, it can be frustrating, but it’s a great money saver, and you can extend your clothing and wardrobe so much longer,” said Lipiew, an Elma native. “I retired two years ago, and I looked around for things to do, and I’ve tried lots of different things … and then I bumped into this group.”

The group was organized out of Canisius College’s Enactus, Lipiew said, adding that the group meets nearly every Saturday in the Catholic Charities of Western New York’s Immigration & Refugee Assistance Center in Buffalo. The goal of the group, she said, is to teach the refugees sewing skills on a sewing machine.

“It’s pretty much how to work the sewing machine. Some of them have sewn in their home countries. Some of them have sewn on treadle machines, where there’s no electricity required,” she said, adding that some, too, have no prior knowledge of sewing. “They have to learn how to sew straight. They have to learn how to go fast or slow. They have to learn about stitch length, when to use a zigzag and when not to.”

In addition to teaching skills, Lipiew said the group also allows the participants to mend clothes.

“Some of them will bring their home mending in. We had a high school boy come in,” she said. “His dad had come for English lessons to the building, and they suggested that he come and learn some sewing skills, and after he came twice, he brought his son to learn how to work [the sewing machine], and his son brought a shirt with him. He had torn the side and wanted to stitch it closed again.”

One of the goals of Sew REDI is to teach the participants how to sew items that can be sold for profit or learn skills that can help them find employment.

“Some of them, the reason for learning the skill is so they can go get a job,” she said.

Lipiew says that while there is oftentimes a language barrier, the group offers a chance for participants to practice their English.

The group, Lipiew said, takes donations, such as material, supplies and sewing machines. Recently, the group was gifted with five donated sewing machines from The Aurora Sewing Center, which has locations in East Aurora and Clarence.

“They turned out to be really nice machines,” she said.

Additionally, Lipiew said the group is looking for volunteers to teach sewing skills. Interested individuals can call her at 675-8326.

“Seeing them pleased when they’re done with something is rewarding,” she said.

Aside from being rewarding, Lipiew said volunteering with the Canisius Sew REDI group is a good opportunity to be both creative and challenged.

“It gives me a chance to be creative,” she said. “It gives me something, even during the week when I’m at home, I’ll think, ‘OK, how could I make a project that they could learn from?’”

email: klindahl@beenews.com

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